What is mindfulness? Mindfulness involves bringing awareness to the present moment, through non-judgmental noticing and observing, with the goal of being fully present in the current moment.
Benefits of Mindfulness
There is plenty of research evidence showing that mindfulness based practices have many benefits- they can help reduce anxiety, insomnia, pain, overeating and enhance mood and emotional regulation ability.
How to Practice Mindfulness
Examples of mindfulness based practices, include but are not limited to, mindful breathing and mindful walking, among others. Mindfulness can be practiced even in routine and simple daily activities such as, while brushing your teeth. Often, the mind tends to go into an auto-pilot sort of mode, when one is engaged in such routine, basic activities. When the mind is on autopilot, the focus becomes not so much on the present moment or on the task being performed, but, on some other thoughts or aspect of life, usually belonging to the future or the past. Mindfulness helps to experience and be in the present moment.
A popular and evidence based technique to practice mindfulness involves mindful breathing. The breath can serve as an anchor to return to, whenever you need it. This simple breathing technique can put you in a state of relaxation. It is beneficial to start with small, realistic goals (such as 5 minutes or so, of practice at a time), and gradually increase the time duration as you feel comfortable.
- First, place yourself in a comfortable position which allows you to be awake.
- You may keep your eyes open or closed, whichever you prefer.
- Then, start with taking a few deep breaths, inhaling through your nose till your belly expands, and slowly letting out through your mouth to release the breath completely.
- Now, let yourself settle into your natural pattern of breathing.
- Now, focus on your breath flowing in through your nose, and out through your mouth.
- You may notice the rise and fall of your belly with in-breaths and out-breaths.
- As you do this, you may notice thoughts crossing your mind. This is normal.
- Be gentle to yourself, and do not judge yourself for having other thoughts while you are trying to focus on your breath.
- When you notice your mind focusing on thoughts, bring your attention gently back to your breath. Rest in the comforting knowledge that you can return to your breath anytime.
- In 5 minutes of this practice, or when you’re ready to wrap this exercise up, shift your awareness from your breath to noticing how your body or mind feels.
Mindful walking involves walking in a way that involves non-judgmental noticing of what’s around you in your environment and/or your internal mind state. Walking in a rapid, goal directed manner typically is not mindful walking.
- For this, walk at a leisurely or natural pace.
- Notice the sensation of your feet touching the ground.
- Notice how the fresh air feels against your face.
- Notice any sounds around you, such as birds chirping.
- Notice what’s around you, such as green trees, grass, plants, a water fountain, or leaves on the ground.
- Notice the state of your mind. As you do this, aim to just notice any thoughts that cross your mind. Do not fixate on or judge these thoughts.
Remember that the goal with these practices is not perfection. It’s normal for the mind to wander. When you notice your mind wandering, it’s not an indication that you are not doing the practice properly. The key is to notice and gently bring attention back. Initially, if you haven’t done these ever before, these practices can feel simplistic or even boring. However, the benefits of mindfulness have been established by research. Developing a regular practice of mindfulness can go a long way in alleviating stress and enhancing emotional well-being. While benefits can be experienced even with much smaller durations of practice research shows that about 8 weeks of regular practice lays a good foundation for reaping optimal benefits and for developing sustainable practice.